Saturday December 8, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A growing downtown population has the Bennington School District considering a full redistricting that could change the elementary schools some children attend.

The school board will see a proposal with redrawn attendance zones for Bennington's three elementary schools in January.

"There's two factors in my mind that are causing this issue. One of them is we're seeing a population shift into the center of town ... into the Ben El zone that we don't have physical space to send to Ben El, so we're having to bus them out," Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke told the board Wednesday. "Another factor is the class size policy that you passed (for grades K-3 that caps enrollment at 18 students per class) that is creating some enrollment issues at that level that the buildings can't accommodate so we have to move those kids out to other schools."

Any changes would be made with the intent of impacting as few families as possible Superintendent Catherine McClure said, and likely only impact families who live near the borders of the existing zones and those who now attend a school outside the zone they live. Because it is Bennington Elementary that is seeing an influx of children, the proposed new attendance zones would likely send some families in Bennington Elementary's lines to either Molly Stark Elementary or Monument Elementary.

"If Ben El has too much of a population for that building to accommodate, that inner circle has just got to shrink a little bit somewhere," Pembroke said.

There remains a question whether redistricting would impact children who opted to attend Monument beginning years ago when it was the only school in the district that was meeting Adequate Yearly Progress. Monument no longer meets AYP so families outside the school attendance lines may no longer request their children attend the school under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The board did not discuss redistricting at length, but member Laurie Cohen said she hopes if it has to be done administrators can find a way for it to impact as few families as possible.

"We've certainly heard about transitions being difficult and there's a benefit for continuity, so to the extent we have to do this, and I'm not saying I'm against doing it, but to the extent we have to do this (we should) do it in a way that has the smallest impact and the fewest transitions," she said.

In recent years BSD has made minor tweaks to school boundaries for incoming kindergarten classes to allow for similar class sizes among all three schools. A full redistricting has not been done since 2007 following the closure of Catamount Elementary.

Similar to the process in 2007, Pembroke said any redistricting will keep children in the same neighborhoods attending the same schools and consideration will be given to maintain a balance in poverty levels and gender in each school.

McClure said Thursday there are still concerns and questions that need to be addressed, such as whether a child who has been in a school five years and is entering fifth grade next fall would have to change schools prior to their final year of elementary school.

Pembroke said it is important if the board decides to go ahead with a redistricting that it does so soon to allow months of notice to parents who will have to send their child to a different school.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi